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Saturday, May 21, 2016
History Documentary: The Mayas, History of Ball Games; Rubber Balls in Mexico: a Mayan Tradition. The Mesoamerican ballgame
The Mesoamerican ballgame (ōllamaliztli in Nahuatl (Nahuatl
pronunciation: [oːlːamaˈlistɬi]), pitz in Classical Maya, modern Spanish
"El juego de la pelota") was a sport with ritual associations played
since 1,400 BC by the pre-Columbian peoples of Ancient Mesoamerica. The
sport had different versions in different places during the millennia, and a newer
more modern version of the game, ulama, is still played in a few places by the
The rules of ōllamaliztli are not known, but judging from
its descendant, ulama, they were probably similar to racquetball, where the
aim is to keep the ball in play. The stone ballcourt goals are a late addition
to the game.
Map showing sites where early ballcourts, balls, or figurines have been recovered
In the most common theory of the game, the players struck
the ball with their hips, although some versions allowed the use of forearms,
rackets, bats, or handstones. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed as
much as 4 kg (9 lbs), and sizes differed greatly over time or according to the
The game had important ritual aspects, and major formal
ballgames were held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice. The
sport was also played casually for recreation by children and perhaps even
Pre-Columbian ballcourts have been found throughout
Mesoamerica, as for example at Copán, as far south as modern Nicaragua, and
possibly as far north as what is now the U.S. state of Arizona. These
ballcourts vary considerably in size, but all have long narrow alleys with
slanted side-walls against which the balls could bounce.